Research article

North American Ski Market

US ski resorts are poised to benefit from an over-spill of demand following strong recovery in the residential markets of US cities.

The United States leads the world by number of skier visits, some 56.9 million in 2013-14 season. The US market has seen a small decline in activity since 2010-11, compounded by poor snowfall in California. Unlike Europeans, who pre-plan trips, many Americans drive to the slopes at short notice, so visits are highly sensitive to fluctuations in ski conditions.

For such a large country, the US has relatively few resorts of worldwide renown. Vail stands apart as an ultra-prime resort, benefiting from demand from the large UHNW community in the US. Prices are still below their 2007 high, but recovery has been driven by the top end of the market. Inventory is low and the best properties rarely trade. Privately owned and operated, Vail Resorts has invested more than $500m on improvements in the last five years.

"Prices are still below their 2007 high, but recovery has been driven by the top end of the market"

Paul Tostevin, Savills World Research

In contrast to the US, winter sports are a much wider part of Canadian culture, and the national ski participation rate stands at 12%. The Canadian market is reliant on a domestic and US customer base, although top-tier resorts such as Whistler benefit from visitors (and home buyers) from beyond North America.

Just 125 kilometres from Vancouver, Whistler played host to the 2010 Winter Olympics and is one of the world’s most exclusive ski resorts. With a permanent population of just under 10,000 residents, Whistler has a large second home market. Whistler’s residential market suffered during the global economic downturn as US buyers, historically a key purchaser group, were put off by a strong Canadian dollar.

In contrast to nearby Vancouver, prices in Whistler last peaked in 2008, falling by around 25% to a low in 2012. Values have since recovered, with sales volumes seeing a marked increased in the last year, but remain a third off their 2007 high.

The majority of home buyers in Whistler are Canadian, many hailing from neighbouring Vancouver. At the very top tiers of the market, buyers from the US, Europe, Asia and Russia are present in small numbers.

Challenges and opportunities

The North American market faces challenges. The US is host to 470 ski areas, down from more than 700 in the 1980s. The ski markets are highly domestic, and in spite of a huge population, the US participation rate is low (estimated at between 3% and 4%). This makes it particularly susceptible to changes in ski habits at a national level.

The USA and Canada’s resorts are spread over three main mountain ranges (The Rockies, Appalachian and Sierra Nevada) which together cover a total area of more than 3 million sq km. By contrast the Alps are 1/10th of the size, but host to more ski resorts than in any other part of the world. Closely packed and often interlinked, resorts in the Alps benefit from a position at the heart of densely populated Europe.

From a real estate perspective there are opportunities. US ski resorts are poised to benefit from a spill-over of demand after strong recovery in the residential markets of US cities. Land is more readily available than in tightly packed European resorts. North America (notably the US) is home to the largest number of wealthy individuals globally, so with the right product there remains a ready demand base to tap in the home market.

Figure 9

FIGURE 9North American and European ski markets compared

Source: Savills World Research

Other articles within this publication

4 other article(s) in this publication